Teen Volunteers are Game Changers in Ghana
The Village of Dzita
The community of Dzita, with a population of about 10,000, sits along the Ghanaian coast about a 2.5 hour drive from the capital city, Accra. Unlike the relatively metropolitan capital, Dzita was all farmland and beachfront. I would have thought I was in upstate Florida if it had not been for the dilapidated buildings and clear differences in the clothing worn by locals as they walked down the streets. Had I stared only at the well-maintained roadways and allowed myself to be lost in the humidity of this place, I could certainly have convinced myself I was on my way to Orlando or Tampa.
Teens Take Charge
I had been assigned to oversee and project manage a photographer/videographer hired by Global Leadership Adventures to capture the cultural experience of a group of high school students living in rural Ghana and learning the customs of the local community. The ten teenagers on this volunteer program were a good ten years younger than me, on average, and their parents had provided them the opportunity to head off at a young age to help out those less fortunate than them. I asked around to determine why - why had they wanted to come here - why had they decided to take weeks out of their summer vacations to do this instead of lounging by the pool at home - and found a common answer: "because we wanted to."
The ten teens were split into two groups. Each would help to construct an eco-compost toilet from scratch. Yes, that's right - a group of teenagers had willingly agreed to work on a couple of toilets during their summers off. At first glance, this would seem ridiculous, until you come to realize how vital a single toilet is to a family and its neighbors here. A facility like this provides sanitation, security, and privacy. The next time you have to excuse yourself in a hole in the ground, you'll realize how important this contribution can be. When the students arrived on site, the program directors had already constructed a flat foundation. Other than that, five students at each of the two sites completed both structures in just two weeks' time. It was incredible, and though the labor was exhausting, the final product could not have been more satisfying to see.
One Final Gift
The facility we built together has one final gift to give to the community. With illegal fishing trawlers from Europe and Asia battering the catches that had once been so abundant in Dzita, farming has become even more crucial to the financial and health-related well being of the locals. The eco compost toilet isn't only a clean and safe place for community members to relieve themselves - it's also a way to provide fertilizer to farmers who can use it to aid their crops. The compost is effective (and it doesn't smell at all - I promise). So this structure, built in only two weeks through the committed efforts of ten teenagers, will provide years of benefits to the local community.
Would You Let Your Teen Volunteer Abroad?
Thoughts on Parenting
One organization has found that nearly 2.5 billion people don't have adequate access to sanitation. That is a terrifying fact, and also an incredible opportunity. Organizations, individuals, and communities themselves have worked hard to bring that number down, and maybe 10 students building 2 sanitary facilities won't make a huge dent in that figure. But it means something to the people who live there, and it meant something to me. The parents who gave their teenagers the go-ahead to volunteer in Ghana, to build these facilities because they wanted to more than anything else this summer, clearly did something right raising their children. I'm proud to say I witnessed what I did, and I can't wait to see the many more teens, and their supportive parents, take a cause this important to heart going forward. When I read these letters the local staff wrote to the students who volunteered on their project sites, I was awed from the relationships they had forged, and the progress they had made, when working together.